CANTON, Mass. – Even as dominant as Canton was on its run to a state title last year, there were a few close calls that nearly put an end to its unbeaten run, but nothing was as dramatic as Monday afternoon’s meeting with defending Div. 1 state champion Duxbury at the Ice House.
The Bulldogs scored two times in the final 1:11 of the game, capped by Chris Lavoie’s blast from the point with just 10 seconds on the clock, to stun the Dragons and earn a remarkable 3-3 tie. The unlikely point extends the unbeaten run to 31 games (28-0-3) going back to last season’s opener.
“We had them right where we wanted them,” Canton coach Brian Shuman joked. “They’re a hell of a team, they’re well-coached, they’ve got some skill players, a lot of talent. I think we were a little bit tentative at times out there and to their credit they were all over us.
“We were a little jittery with the puck but in the end we were able to put the puck in the net twice in the last minute to salvage a point.”
As the clock wound down in the third period, the Bulldogs were watching their unbeaten run rapidly tick away, trailing by two goals and struggling to get pucks to the net. At the tail end of its fourth power play of the night, Canton started to show some urgency and life.
Johnny Hagan won a puck on the near boards and played it out to Declan Pfeffer at the point. The defenseman fired a puck towards net that was just missed by Shane Marshall at the post. Seconds later, Jack Connolly teed up Lavoie for a close-range shot that was denied by a quick left pad from Duxbury goalie Steve Pisani (22 saves).
With 1:11 to play, Canton put some life into the building. Tommy Vaughan and Lavoie chased down a puck behind the net. It was played to Marshall, who fired a no-look pass into the slot and, whether by intention or luck, right to the stick of Hagan. The senior forward flicked a shot just over the goalie’s shoulder to cut the lead to 3-2.
Canton goalie Joe Cammarata (18 saves) was on the bench watching as the Bulldogs threw on an extra attacker for an attacking zone face-off in the dying seconds. The puck was knocked back towards the point and white jerseys scrambled to get in front of Pisani. Lavoie took a touch and then let rip on a shot that snuck through the crowd on the edge of the crease and into the back of the net.
The Bulldogs chased after Lavoie, who raced to the other end of the ice to celebrate with the Canton student section.
“We just had to try and get guys to the front of the net and get shots through,” Shuman explained. “That was really it. Our defense had been jumping in the play more, finally, towards the end of the game. They stopped thinking about letting up plays and they went down and created some offense.”
It was a game of momentum twists, befitting a game between two championship-caliber teams. Duxbury got the first punch in, scoring inside the opening two minutes when a puck took a kind bounce off the end boards to Billy Mrowka on the post.
Despite giving up an early goal, Canton responded by controlling the bulk of the opening period, outshooting the Dragons 13-6. Colby Ciffolillo nearly created an immediate answer when he set up Vaughan in front but Pisani made the stop. Marshall also was stuffed on a chance right on the doorstep.
Lavoie came close to getting Canton on the board but couldn’t hit the target on his first chance and had his second effort saved. Duxbury almost doubled the lead on the break, but Connolly used every inch of his 6-foot-4 frame to make a diving intervention.
The Canton pressure paid off with 1:39 left in the first. On the power play, Connolly lined up a shot from the point. Donny McNeice was parked in front of goal and got the telling tip to beat Pisani and tie the game.
Canton may have felt good going into the first intermission, but the Dragons started the second on a power play and grabbed control of the game. The Bulldogs were caught watching the puck and TJ Jones was able to pick out Will Nolan for the go-ahead score. Three minutes later, from a face-off, Friend Weiler got free in the slot and was able to beat Cammarata on the stick side.
Chances were suddenly few and far between for the Bulldogs. Ronan O’Mahony had a look from the left circle but was denied by Pisani and in the closing seconds of the period Hagan made a rush down the left wing and nearly snuck a shot in from a tight angle only to have it ring off the post.
Hagan had another rush early in the third, as a power play was expiring, beating his marker on the wing and getting to the crease only for Pisani to stay with the puck and stuff his backhand try. That would be Canton’s last good scoring opportunity for the next eight minutes, as Duxbury looked to be comfortably seeing out the win.
Shuman said, “It was so disappointing to come out in the third period and have the power play for a minute and have five guys that have played on the power play for three years for us come out and execute like they did at the start of the third period. They were just overthinking and I think they were getting down on themselves.”
The game turned around in the closing minutes, as the Bulldogs found their footing and found the attack that had been so potent during this streak.
“When you’re down two goals with two minutes left in the game,” Shuman said, “you stop thinking and you stop feeling sorry for yourself and I think they went out there and just tried to keep it simple and get shots on net and get guys to the net.”
Canton (3-0-2) will put the streak on the line again on New Year’s when they travel out-of-state to face Smithfield (R.I.).
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